Timor Leste (East) and Nation-Building

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has a new report on the situation in Timor Leste. Some of you may be aware that Timor Leste broke away from Indonesia four years ago following a brutal war of secession, during which forces loyal to the Indonesian government were alleged to have committed horrendous crimes against humanity. Thanks to UN intervention, the killing stopped and the small state of Timor Leste gained its independence. Recently, however, the UN-directed nation-building exercise in Timor Leste has imploded, along with domestic order.

According to the ICG.

Four years after Timor-Leste gained independence, its police and army were fighting each other in the streets of Dili. The April-June 2006 crisis left both institutions in ruins and security again in the hands of international forces. The crisis was precipitated by the dismissal of almost half the army and caused the virtual collapse of the police force. UN police and Australian-led peacekeepers maintain security in a situation that, while not at a point of violent conflict, remains unsettled. If the new government is to reform the security sector successfully, it must ensure that the process is inclusive by consulting widely and resisting the temptation to take autocratic decisions. A systematic, comprehensive approach, as recommended by the UN Security Council, should be based on a realistic analysis of actual security and law-enforcement needs. Unless there is a non-partisan commitment to the reform process, structural problems are likely to remain unresolved and the security forces politicised and volatile.

The problems run deep. Neither the UN administration nor successive Timorese governments did enough to build a national consensus about security needs and the kind of forces required to meet them. There is no national security policy, and there are important gaps in security-related legislation. The police suffer from low status and an excess of political interference. The army still trades on its heroism in resisting the Indonesian occupation but has not yet found a new role and has been plagued by regional (east-west) rivalry. There is a lack of transparency and orderly arrangements in political control as well as parliamentary and judicial oversight with respect to both forces.

The situation in Timor Leste illustrates–from the perspective of comparative politics–the importance of the state and its crucial role in facilitating stability by consolidating political power and maintaining, to paraphrase Weber, a monopoly on the legitimate use of political violence. From an IR perspective, we see the difficulty of imposing legitimate order on a society from outside, whether–as is the case here–through intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) like the United Nations, or–as in Iraq–through unilateral, or multilateral means.

Here’s a report from the BBC on the upheavals of April-June 2006.

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2 thoughts on “Timor Leste (East) and Nation-Building

  1. Thanks for the link. We’ll have to wait and see how this turns out, but what is certain is that the new state has yet to achieve a legitimate monopoly on the use (or threat thereof) of violence.

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